HAMAS'S capture of the Gaza Strip has created, along with Iran, a second radical Islamist state in the Middle East. The region, probably the Arab-Israeli conflict, and certainly the Palestinian movement, will never be the same.
What has happened should not be a surprise. Fatah's failure is not due to American foreign policy, Israel, or anyone but Fatah itself. It is Yasir Arafat's ultimate legacy, for he encouraged not only terrorist violence against Israel, but also anarchy and corruption within his own organisation.
Most importantly, Arafat failed to resolve the conflict or give his people an alternative vision to one of extreme radicalism and endless fighting. By rejecting a compromise peace solution in 2000 that would have created an independent Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem and $23 billion in international aid, Arafat made clear that there would be no alternative, moderate scenario for resolving the Palestinians' problems.
It was clear before the January 2006 elections that Hamas was heading toward a victory. Even after the defeat, Fatah implemented not a single reform or leadership change. Meanwhile, like communist and fascist parties in the past, Hamas moved forward, with a clear doctrine, relative discipline, and grim determination. Fatah's ideology and practice laid the basis for Hamas to advance. With Fatah demonising Israel, rejecting compromise, demanding total victory, glorifying terrorist violence, and portraying moderation as treason, Hamas merely needed to prove that it was better at pursuing this course.
No-one should underestimate Hamas's extremism. Indeed, the only difference between Hamas and al-Qaeda - though the two groups do not generally work together - is that the latter emphasises attacks on western targets, while the former has up until now focused on Israel.
Consequently, Hamas will not moderate its stance, and its victory sets back the chances of Israeli-Palestinian peace for decades. Buoyed by its triumph, enjoying backing from Syria (where its headquarters are located) and Iran, Hamas will pursue its genocidal and openly stated goal, the extinction of Israel and its people. Any thought of concession or compromise is gravely mistaken.
Until now, while Gazans have suffered from the constant fighting and economic failures brought about by their leaders' policies, they have been left alone in their private lives. Hamas might go slower or faster with an "Islamicising" programme. Nevertheless, it is determined to transform the lives of those it rules. It will kill as it chooses, abolish women's rights, and indoctrinate schoolchildren with hatred and the ambition to be suicide bombers.
Gaza has suffered from anarchy; now it will be under the heel of a ruthless dictatorship. Fatah's rule is still strong in the West Bank, but even the Gaza catastrophe is unlikely to lead it to change its ways.
For Israel, of course, developments in Gaza pose a great challenge. Israel has long since decided that it has no interest in renewing its control over the Gaza Strip. In some ways, Hamas's coup makes things clearer. Gaza is ruled by a completely hostile regime. Israel will feel free to retaliate for cross-border attacks and continuing rocket fire at civilian targets within the country.
AT LAST, the world must recognise that the hopes stirred by the peace process in the Nineties have been completely dashed. In effect, Hamas has returned the conflict to the Sixties and Seventies, when progress toward peace had to await the PLO's readiness to stop using terrorism and accept Israel's existence. Israel's survival and right to self-defence now has to be supported internationally, and the slander and demonisation of recent years should come to an end.
The strategic implications for the region are equally grim. Hamas's takeover of Gaza is a victory for the bloc comprising Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, as well as the separate branches of the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is one) seeking to capture power in their own countries.
These forces fully comprehend that the most important global contest today is between radical Islamism and the rest of the world. The question is when the rest of the world will figure that out.
• Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Centre and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest book is The Truth About Syria.